Monday, October 15, 2012

Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1950

I wrote another article for Black Gate's site about Galaxy Science Fiction.  This latest article is a review of Galaxy's premiere issue, which debuted in October, 1950:

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Don't Get Lost in the Battle

With high or adventure fantasy, battles tend to be part of the genre.  What better way to draw to a climax than sending thousands of armed soldiers against each other, perhaps led by some savage who can kill 1,000 by himself?

But before jumping into the fray, you might consider a few points to keep yourself from getting lost in the battle.

First, think through the logistics.  How many combatants are there?  What kinds of battle units are involved?  What is the landscape like?  How are the armies supplied?  What is the objective of each side?

Once you have a general idea of who will be skirmishing, take time to research what similar battles looked like.  For example, if you have an army consisting of cavalry, archers and infantry, how many make up each group?  From there, research historical battles involving similar groups.  It's not difficult to find strategies generals would use for organizing their forces and positioning them for battle.  Research how people fought with the weapons and armor that your armies employ. 

I don't need to do any research; I'm writing fantasy.  Don't let your genre excuse laziness.  Plausibility exists in fantasy worlds; we need something to hold on to while we explore the unknown.

Years ago, I was trying to write a battle between men and dwarves, and I struggled with how to write it.  So I called a friend who does Civil War reenactments to get his take on battles.  He had personal experience with mock battles, and I picked his brain on how fatigued he would get, how hot he would get, the level of confusion involved, etc.  He also read a lot of accounts of battles, which allowed me to ask more gruesome details, like how bodies would stack up.  Some of his answers led me to new questions I hadn't planned on asking.  These tangible details greatly helped me in anchoring the reader to the narrative.

Plan the battle at a macro level first so that you know how you want it to play out.  What movements will take place?  How will it be resolved?  How many casualties will there be?

After understanding the battle at a macro level (and perhaps describing it at a macro level), personalize the battle.  Let the reader follow the character (or characters) who matter.  A battle without characters means next to nothing.  Why should the reader care about the outcome?  And through that character, let the reader experience the reality of the battle with all of its excitement, dread, and whatever emotions you want to pull into the scene.

When you focus on individuals, be mindful of the macro level at the same time.  Otherwise your writing will be out of sync, making for a confusing tale.  The characters don't need this macro information, but you do.  If it helps to stage figurines while you write or draw crude graphics, do it.  Just keep yourself grounded in what's happening.

If you decide to change the battle, go back to your notes on the macro level and rethink all scenes in the narrative that are affected by the change. 

Stay focused, and read everything with a critical eye.  Ask yourself what is happening in all directions.  Take breaks and make new drawings or notes if you need to.  Even if the battle is rushing along, you don't need to rush your way through writing it. 

When the battle's over and you know you've taken into account all of the subtle details, you'll share in the victory.